Azerbaijan (Azərbaycan ), officially the Republic of Azerbaijan (Azərbaycan Respublikası ), is a country in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. It is bounded by the Caspian Sea to the east, Russia to the north, Georgia to the northwest, Armenia to the west and Iran to the south. The exclave of Nakhchivan is bounded by Armenia to the north and east, Iran to the south and west, and has an 11 km long border with Turkey in the northwest.
The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic proclaimed its independence in 1918 and became the first democratic Muslim state. In 1920 the country was incorporated into the Soviet Union as the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. The modern Republic of Azerbaijan proclaimed its independence on 30 August 1991, shortly before the dissolution of the USSR in the same year. In September 1991, the Armenian majority of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region seceded to form the Republic of Artsakh. The region and seven adjacent districts outside it became de facto independent with the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1994. These regions are internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan pending a solution to the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh through negotiations facilitated by the OSCE.
Azerbaijan is a unitary semi-presidential republic. It is one of six independent Turkic states and an active member of the Turkic Council and the TÜRKSOY community. Azerbaijan has diplomatic relations with 158 countries and holds membership in 38 international organizations, including the United Nations (since 1992), the Council of Europe, the Non-Aligned Movement, the OSCE, and the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) program. It is one of the founding members of GUAM, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Azerbaijan also holds observer status in the World Trade Organization.
While more than 89% of the population is Shia Muslim, the Constitution of Azerbaijan does not declare an official religion and all major political forces in the country are secularist. Azerbaijan has a high level of human development that ranks on par with most Eastern European countries. It has a high rate of economic development and literacy, as well as a low rate of unemployment. However, the ruling party, the New Azerbaijan Party, has been accused of authoritarianism and human rights abuses.
According to a modern etymology, the term Azerbaijan derives from that of Atropates, a Persian satrap under the Achaemenid Empire, who was later reinstated as the satrap of Media under Alexander the Great. The original etymology of this name is thought to have its roots in the once-dominant Zoroastrianism. In the Avesta's Frawardin Yasht ("Hymn to the Guardian Angels"), there is a mention of âterepâtahe ashaonô fravashîm ýazamaide, which literally translates from Avestan as "we worship the fravashi of the holy Atropatene." The name "Atropates" itself is the Greek transliteration of an Old Iranian, probably Median, compounded name with the meaning "Protected by the (Holy) Fire" or "The Land of the (Holy) Fire". The Greek name was mentioned by Diodorus Siculus and Strabo. Over the span of millennia, the name evolved to (Middle Persian), then to (New Persian) and present-day Azerbaijan.
The name Azerbaijan was first adopted for the area of the present-day Republic of Azerbaijan by the government of Musavat in 1918, after the collapse of the Russian Empire, when the independent Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was established. Until then, the designation had been used exclusively to identify the adjacent region of contemporary northwestern Iran, while the area of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic was formerly referred to as Arran and Shirvan. On that basis Iran protested the newly adopted country name.
During the Soviet rule, the country was also spelled in English from the Russian transliteration as Azerbaydzhan.